RCV is permitted under the US Constitution. In 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Maine, considered the constitutionality of Maine’s RCV process in Baber v. Dunlap. In the November 2018 general election, Bruce Poliquin, the incumbent US Representative, lost his re-election bid to Jared Golden in a four-candidate election using RCV. Supporters of Mr. Poliquin filed suit following the election, claiming that RCV violates the US Constitution, and the Voting Rights Act. Mr. Poliquin’s supporters also claimed that the ballot form and instructions were too confusing and that the manner by which the votes were tabulated disenfranchised many Maine voters.
The Court concluded that RCV does not violate Article I of the US Constitution, stating on page 16 of the opinion: “In the final analysis, RCV is not invalidated by Article I because there is no textual support for such a result and because it is not inherently inconsistent with our Nation’s republican values. In fact, the opposite is true.” The Court also concluded that RCV does not violate the 14th or First Amendment to the US Constitution, and does not violate the Voting Rights Act.
With respect to the claim that RCV is too confusing, the Court stated on page 27 of the opinion that Mr. Poliquin’s supporters’ “thesis, as I understand it, is that by allowing for choices among several non-major-party candidates, voter turnout is likely to be comprised of a greater percentage of low-information voters, which apparently makes more likely that those voters are cognitively unable to fill out a RCV ballot. In addition to being cynical, these conclusions are not grounded in anything approaching a reliable standard that may be informative of the constitutional questions.”
The Court stated further on page 27 of the opinion: “In a Nation founded on the principles of republican–representative government, nothing is to be gained from an electoral system that caters to the uninterested and uninformed. The RCV system implemented in Maine is not so opaque and bewildering that it deprives a class of citizens of the fundamental right to vote. In fact, I find the form of the ballot and the associated instructions more than adequate to apprise the voter of how to express preferences among the candidates. Finally, I am not persuaded that it is unduly burdensome for voters to educate themselves about the candidates in order to determine the best way to rank their preferences.”